Global Shift: Mapping the Changing Contours of the World Economy, 6th Edition

Joanne Roberts (Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 26 January 2012




Roberts, J. (2012), "Global Shift: Mapping the Changing Contours of the World Economy, 6th Edition", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 8 No. 1, pp. 93-95.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Peter Dicken is Emeritus Professor of Economic Geography in the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester, UK. His significant contribution to the field of economic geography has been recognized by the award of the Victoria Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 2001 and the Centenary Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 2007. Through his most widely known book, Global Shift, Dicken's impact extends into the academic fields of sociology, politics and international business. The publication of the sixth edition of Global Shift marks 25 years since its first appearance in 1986 (Dicken, 1986). In the interim, over 100,000 copies have been sold and innumerable students and researchers have poured over the pages of this landmark text.

I first came across Global Shift as a student in the late 1980s and with each revision I have become increasingly appreciative of the book. Dicken communicates complex theoretical concepts and empirical material in a clear and concise manner and each edition has seen improvements in the clarity of presentation and the range of topics covered. Consequently, I regularly recommended Global Shift to students of international business.

Like many other textbooks, Global Shift has become more accessible with each chapter beginning with a summary. Additional learning materials are provided through a companion website where discipline specific online reading lists are available for each chapter with web links to the papers listed. These are valuable resources for students and scholars alike. The provision of lecturers' notes, additional case studies, and PowerPoint slides ensures that the book will compete head on with the many international business texts on the market today. Indeed, the materials provided are welcome pedagogical tools for hard pressed lecturers seeking to balance high quality teaching with excellence in research.

Dicken has developed each edition of the book in line with theoretical and empirical advances. For instance, the first edition reflected an age dominated by manufacturing and heavy industries with detailed treatment given to the textiles and clothing, iron and steel, motor vehicles and electronics industries. Yet, by the late 1980s, the significance of the service sector was coming to the fore and Dicken (1992) responded with the inclusion of a chapter on the internationalization of services in the second edition published in 1992. Furthermore, with each edition the author has responded to criticism and suggestions provided by reviewers. For example, the current edition addresses the weaknesses identified by Faulconbridge (2007) concerning the treatment of services and the evaluation of management models in the fifth edition.

The latest edition provides more than a mere cosmetic updating. In particular, it makes greater use of the concept of global production networks. The opening chapter, “Introduction: questioning ‘Globalization’”, begins with the 2008 financial crisis before going on to provide a concise introduction to the meaning of globalization in which the conflicting perspectives of hyper globalists and sceptics are considered. The chapter ends by underlining the significance of geography in the contemporary global economy. Part 1, “The Shifting Contours of the Global Economy”, follows, consisting of one substantial chapter that illustrates the increasing interconnectedness of trade and foreign direct investment. In this valuable overview, supported by a range of useful data, Dicken sets today's global economy in its historical context. This chapter, like the global economy itself, has evolved substantially since the first edition, which was produced before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Empire and significant technological and organizational changes, including the rise of the internet, mobile communications, cheap air transportation, and new demands for information technology related commodities. These developments have transformed the nature and location of international production, giving rise to complex geographically distributed networks of production and a growth of outsourcing and offshoring. Back in 1986 the Newly Industrializes Countries (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan) were emerging rapidly and presenting a competitive threat to the developed countries. Today, the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are increasing in importance. Indeed, having grown by an average of around 10 per cent per annum between 1980 and 2007 (Dicken() 2011, p. 32), China features large in chapter 2.

Part Two, “Processes of Global Shift” includes five chapters that deal with substantive forces and actors shaping the global economy. The first of these focuses on the complexity of the global economy through an account of the institutional structures and core relationships that underpin the global production networks that characterize the contemporary era. For Dicken, major actors include not only Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and states but also Civil Society Organizations, labour and consumers. The force of technological change is considered in chapter 4, followed by TNCs in Chapter 5 and the state in Chapter 6. Chapter 7 explores the complex collaborative and conflictual relationships between TNCs and states. Part Three consist of six chapters that explore global shifts in specific sectors: extractive; agro‐food; clothing; automobile; advanced business services; and, logistics and distribution services. These chapters provide excellent points of entry for those seeking an understanding of the particular sector.

The fourth and final Part, “Winning and losing in the global economy”, consists of four chapters, the focus of which will be of particular interest to critical scholars of international business. The first returns to the theme of global production networks but with an emphasis on the questions of “Who captures the value created within production networks?” and “Who benefits from the value creation and enhancement?”. These questions, which raise the issue of power in networks, are considered from a spatial perspective in terms of how global production networks benefit specific places. The next chapter explores the environmental impact of global production networks, with their negative externalities considered in relation to the delicate balance of the earth's atmosphere, recycling and the relocation of waste. The importance of location is underlined in the penultimate chapter, which focuses on “Winning and losing: where you live really matters”. Here the contours of world poverty, population growth and migration are considered both across the globe and within particular countries.

The final chapter, “Making the world a better place”, draws together many of the complex issues discussed throughout the book. Dicken (2011, p. 530) argues that “among the multiplicity of actors involved in the global economy, two in particular – TNCs and states – are responsible for much of the shaping and reshaping of the global economic map. As such, they bear the primary responsibility for improving the lives and livelihoods of people throughout the world”. Hence, the final chapter focuses, on the one hand, on TNCs and corporate social responsibility and, on the other, states and issues of global governance. While these are undoubtedly important mechanisms for improving the welfare of people across the globe, the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath show that both businesses and governments seem unable to take responsibility for their contributions to the crisis – whether in terms of a failure to operate in a socially responsible manner or to develop relevant and robust systems of global regulation – or even to take the steps required to secure the futures of a growing number of individuals living precarious lives in the developed and developing world. For instance, as I write this review, the difficulties of coordinating action between states is evident in the challenges faced by the leaders of European Union countries as they struggle to stabilize the economy and ensure the survival of the Euro. Moreover, the reification of the “market” as the key force in the economy, determining more than the price of specific goods but also the viability of governments and the states they govern, raises a further element that needs to be incorporated into our understanding of the operation of the global economy. A deeper appreciation can also be gained through a more detailed consideration of the role of individuals and the social relations, together with their accompanying distributions of power, which underpin the operation of TNCs and states.

It is fascinating to see how much has changed since the publication of the first edition of Global Shift. And yet, so much has also remained the same. Today the Horn of Africa is facing the world's worst food crisis following the failure of the rains in 2010. Back in the mid 1980s, the same region was gripped by famine. Despite the efforts of celebrities organizing fund raising events, like Band Aid and Live Aid, and the more substantial and sustained work of aid relief and development organizations, images of starving children persist on our television screens. So, despite the rapid changes in technology and political and economic reforms, some major problems remain beyond the responsibility of global production networks and the reach of global governance systems.

Global Shift offers a more rewarding read than many international business texts. The sixth edition is the product of Dicken's career long dedication to his academic field and to students and scholars across the world. His consistent effort to develop and improve the book through each revision has resulted in a work of outstanding qualities which I will continue to recommend to students and colleagues.


Dicken, P. (1986), Global Shift: Industrial Change in a Turbulent World, Harper & Row, Publishers, London.

Dicken, P. (1992), Global Shift: The Internationalization of Economic Activity, 2nd ed., Paul Chapman Publishing, London.

Faulconbridge, J.R. (2007), “Book review: Dicken, P. (2007) Global Shift (5th edition)”, Journal of Economic Geography, Vol. 7, pp. 7779.

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